Ask Peter: What to do when you dislike chilli
You will probably think I am a bit of a wimp, however, I do not like chilli. I have tried to like it and it does nothing for me. Why do so many recipes and restaurants use it in great amounts? What can be used as a substitute? As an aside, I would like to mention my grandson, Robert Tricklebank. He tells me you are the best person he has worked for. Thank you for giving him the opportunity to follow his dream. Sharon Tricklebank
Hello Grandma/Nana Tricklebank, marvellous to know that Robert is your whanau. He’s a terrific chef, a lovely man and will do great culinary things.
Chillies: I can understand that you may not like them, they’re just not for everyone. But I suspect they could be. Chillies get a bad rap because some people view them simply as “hot hot hot”, with heat being the only characteristic that they offer to a dish.
The reality is that they offer really delicious flavours as well, some more than others. However, I assume it’s their spicy heat that you don’t enjoy?
It’s the fibres that hold the seeds in place inside the chilli that contain the bulk of the heat. If you slice a chilli lengthways (wear gloves) then scrape the seeds and fibres out using a teaspoon, you’ll be rid of most of the heat. Some will still be present, of course, but what you’ll now experience if you add the flesh to a soup or stew, is a flavour that can come only from chillies — it can’t be replaced by cumin, cinnamon or fennel seeds, for example.
Aleppo chilli or kirmizi biber, is a chilli that is processed without seeds. It’s not spicy-hot at all but the flavour is really interesting. The scotch bonnet, whose close cousin is known as the habanero, ranges in colour when ripe from pale yellow through to butternut orange and fiery red. It is my favourite fresh chilli because of its distinctive flavour, which is a little sweet and very aromatic. The chillies themselves are fiercely hot but, combined with the flavoursome flesh, they offer a marvellous combo in dishes like chunky tomato soups and tamarind ginger ketchups, a rustic chicken, chickpea and plantain stew, as well as the adding an intriguing and key flavour to a creamy pureed spinach and oyster soup.
This soup, which might well be considered a newish classic, is titled Trader Vic’s Bongo Bongo Soup (get the recipe here).
I first ate a bowl of it in Wellington back in the 80s, cooked by friends at a dinner party one night. They didn’t add the chillies, but I have since many times as the flavour goes incredibly well with pureed oysters and spinach, and I replace the classic cream and milk with coconut cream.
To get you on to the chilli-loving-wagon, perhaps you could try making recipes with minuscule amounts of chilli/paprika/cayenne etc, added, and then slowly increase. Or perhaps we could challenge Robert to convert you with some of his creations, because once you get hooked, chillies really do become addictive!
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.